More often I am approached by some of my students asking for my take in matters that are personal to them. Truly random matters from politics to relationships.

What ought I do? If I offer the advice they come back for even more, if I fail they plead for an opinion at least.

Which approach should I take when asked for advice?

  • 1
    What kind of students? PhD students? Students from a class?
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Oct 13 '18 at 9:10
  • Diploma, Bachelors students.
    – stomogaka
    Oct 13 '18 at 9:16

Bachelor's students can know little about the outside world. Many may not have even done simple things like pay bills. Furthermore, in most countries they have either gone direct from high school to college, or direct to college after 1 year to travel or improve an entrance exam score.

You should lead with a disclaimer, and proceed to tell them at least 2 sides to their problem. Honestly, the advice you give will comprise of things they would not easily or never imagine themselves (in a short timeframe). It's either your advice or the aggregate advice from the internet. You will be one data point, but a credible one. Sometimes just advising (or encouraging) someone to actually bring their issue to the appropriate person is the push they need.

If you are constantly sought out for advice, I think it shows your opinion and life experiences are trusted. Considering the personal matters, I highly doubt the same students are asking more than 1 other professor. Be wise. Share your wisdom.

  • 1
    Plus one for “the push to see a relevant person”
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 13 '18 at 10:56

For some questions you should refer the student to a more appropriate source, such as a counseling center. Likewise, legal advice and many other should be referred elsewhere. There are some things you just shouldn't know about your students.

However, for other things, there should be no issue, especially if you have a habit of sitting around with groups of students. Being human to your students is a good thing. You can, of course, express sympathy in situations in which the student is having external problems, and you can give academic advice since that is your field.

Politics is a bit dicey. If you disagree strongly with a student and your subject isn't Government or similar, then you are in danger of the student disrespecting you generally even when you try to teach them, say mathematics. It can make them less able to learn from you.

Likewise, relationship advice can be fraught if you aren't trained as a counselor. There are some things you can say (like "seek counseling"), but you are likely hearing only one side of the story if the student has problems and your advice may well get misinterpreted and applied in ways you don't intend.

Step carefully between being a human being and possibly getting into the middle of things for which you have no training.


Sounds fraught with liability and danger. One reason people look for advice is to avoid the responsibility of making a decision. That means they want you to shoulder it. Which of course means you could be blamed if they don't like the way things turn out.

For personal problems, look for a real problem behind it. E.g., they complain about their life or relationship, the real problem may be depression or anxiety. Under no circumstances (at least if you're in the US) should you try to address or advise on such mental health issues. Refer them to someone else with training who's job is to address these things. My school has an office for this kind of thing.

Also frankly, if students think they have a closer bond with you, they can get a lot more demanding in terms of extensions and grades they want, leading to bad evaluations...

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